Less instinct, more structure: Borrow Google’s tips for hiring top marketing talent

Lisa Stern Haynes
/ November 2019 / Organizational Culture

A version of this tutorial originally appeared in the free Primer app.

You’ve probably heard one or two myths about Google’s hiring process. Some of those were born from pop culture and others are processes the company has since abandoned. Here’s the truth: These days, we avoid brain teasers of any kind. Instead, we exclusively rely on structured interviewing, which means using identical interviewing methods to assess candidates applying for the same job.

According to external studies and internal Google research, structured interviews are better than unstructured interviews at indicating who will do well on the job. Interviewers, hired candidates, and even candidates who didn’t receive job offers also report being happier with structured interviews because the process felt faster and the decisions seemed fairer than a process in which different candidates are asked different questions or gut instinct is used to evaluate potential hires.

You’re not trying to elicit “correct” answers, but to evaluate a candidate’s thought process.

Here are four tactics marketers can use for structured interviewing to find top talent.

Don’t look for the “right” answers

Before conducting interviews, create a list of questions you and other interviewers will ask. Remember that you’re not trying to elicit “correct” answers, but to evaluate a candidate’s thought process.

Start by writing down the skills and attributes your ideal candidate should have. Do they need to be a self-starter, take direction well, feel comfortable taking risks? If possible, ask someone who’s experienced in the role what skills are important. From there, draft questions designed to evaluate those skills and attributes.

For example, say you wanted to assess candidates’ digital strategy skills. Your first question might be, “Can you tell me about the most successful campaign you’ve run to reach an audience online?” Then you can have follow-up questions prepared that encourage candidates to explain their thought process: “What data did you consider during the planning phase?” “How did you know the campaign was successful?” “If you ran the campaign again, how would you improve it?”

You can also put questions in a certain order to help candidates get warmed up. Questions about their experience can come first (“Tell me about a time when …”). Then you can move onto harder hypothetical questions (“Imagine this happened. What would you do?”).

Safeguard against bias

It’s easy for unconscious bias to creep into the evaluation process and make it difficult to fairly compare candidates’ skills. You or another interviewer might have a bad day when interviewing one candidate, or you might feel particularly charitable to a candidate because they went to the same college as you. You might be interviewing a candidate whose native language is different from yours, and you could be unintentionally distracted by their conversational pauses or unfamiliar expressions.

Grading rubric for a “basket weaver” role

3x4 chart illustrating a sample interview grading rubric. X-axis labels: Poor, Mixed, Good, Excellent. Y-axis labels: Use of materials, Aesthetics, Workmanship. Cells have 4 dots: gray + 1 color per X-axis labels: 1 red, 2 orange, 3 yellow, and 4 green.

To combat this, you can create a grading “rubric” to use during your post-interview evaluation process. This is a standardized guide that lists the attributes and skills your interview questions were designed to test. Within your rubric, you can give illustrative examples of what poor, mixed, good, and excellent answers might look like. All interviewers can use this to judge candidates equally against a set list of expectations, as opposed to judging one candidate’s answers against another’s.

Be transparent

The more transparent you are during the interview process, the more confident a candidate will feel. Before meeting with the candidate, tell them how many interviews there will be, which attributes are important to the company, what qualifications are important for the role, and how the interview questions will be formatted.

At the start of the interview, set expectations for the conversation. You might tell the candidate that there will be time for them to ask questions at the end of the interview, and that you’ll be taking notes but will still be paying attention to what they’re saying. Also, let them know that it’s OK for them to take notes during the interview and to take time to collect their thoughts before answering a question.

Be flexible

Structure is not the same thing as rigidity. If a candidate is struggling to answer a question, it’s OK to briefly break away from your prepared questions to give them more context.

If the candidate is continuing to struggle, you might even guide the conversation to a different question. This not only helps you create a more positive experience for the candidate, but allows you to stay in charge of the interview length.

Finally, you can also end the interview on a positive note by highlighting why you like to work for your company, and letting the candidate know who they can follow up with for next steps.

And make sure to thank the candidate for their time.

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